USHL Update – Des Moines Buccaneers
The 2000-2001 season has been a roller coaster of ups and downs for one of the most storied franchises in the USHL. The Des Moines Buccaneers hoist a number of banners in the stadium that is called by many as the “Madhouse on Hickman”. Des Moines is coming off a 4th place finish last season after being the dominant team in the league the prior several years. Some Buccaneers fans may have considered last season a down year for the team. This season there was much concern about how the mighty Bucs would turn out. Several new faces took the ice and early on Des Moines struggled to get things going. It appeared they may take another step down in the league until some key transactions and top-notch goaltending has taken this team back to where they feel they belong. Currently Des Moines is 24-14-2 good for 50 points. That gets them 4th in the rough and tumble Western Division but good for 5th in the USHL overall in the playoff standings. The Buccaneers are chasing their archrival Omaha Lancers along with the Sioux Falls Stampede and league leading Lincoln Stars in the quest for home ice advantage. Currently the Buccaneers are one of the leagues hottest teams as they recently had a 7 game winning streak put together. That streak was capped off with road wins at League leading Lincoln and over 2nd place Sioux Falls.On the offensive side Des Moines had a lot to replace. Losing scoring champion Peter Sejna last season along with rookie of the year Troy Riddle Des Moines had a lot of questions to answer. Des Moines definitely got the season off slowly but now have begun to pick it up thanks to veteran forward Ryan Bennett (Lake Superior State). Bennett who returned this season to work on his game has become one of the major forces in the league. He is one of the scoring leaders on the team with 20 goals and 19 assists for 39 points. Physically he is also a leader as he leads Des Moines in penalty minutes with 101. He has proven that he can do whatever he needs to do to lead his team to victory. Doug Meyer (St. Cloud State) is the current scoring leader with 22 goals and 20 assists for 42 points. Doug is one of the bigger forwards in the league and he feasts on rebounds in front of the net. David Klema is also a top scorer for Des Moines. Although he does not score as much on his own with 9 goals, he dishes out assists like nobody’s business with 27. David is 3rd overall on the team in scoring with 36 points. All 3 of the aforementioned forwards made the recent USHL All Star/Prospects game in Cedar Rapids. If this offensive trio can continue their play there won’t be much in the way of some big time season totals.Defensively Des Moines has plugged in some monsters at the blueline. Last season the defense was the main area of concern and they certainly have gotten the appropriate personnel to fill the gaps. Joe Campbell (University of Wisconsin) and Luke Irwin are two of the bigger defenseman in the league. Campbell also made the All Star team for Des Moines. Irwin and Campbell both possess the height, speed and strength to keep offensive opponents at bay. They certainly put a bruising on you night in and night out. The giant on the team would be James Jernberg (St. Cloud State). Jernberg is absolutely brutal on his offensive counterparts. At 6’4” and 240 lbs he has the classic tough guy frame. He doesn’t back down to anyone and will always defend his teammates. Campbell and Irwin do their best to stay out of the penalty box, unfortunately Jernberg’s physical play has accumulated him 99 minutes so far in the sin bin. It is well worth it as Jernberg does his job as the enforcer well. The Buccaneers faithful have definitely seen an improvement on the defensive side.Goaltender Mike Mantua was suppose to leave after last season and go on to Western Michigan to join the Broncos. However, Mike decided to return one final season and Des Moines has been thankful he has been here. Mantua was another member of Des Moines who represented his team in the All Star game and was the starting goaltender for Team USA. In his 30 minutes of play he shut out Team World and made some outstanding saves. He has done that all season long en route to an 18-11 record. He currently has a 3.65 GAA and .895 saves percentage. Those figures have been good enough to keep him among the league’s elite in the goaltending category. Mantua uses a very tough style of netminding and it works for him like a charm. He is not afraid to get tough when he needs to. Mike makes it look like child’s play when the offense is on the breakaway towards him, as he will skate out and make a poke check or glove save that will leave you asking how he did it. Without a doubt he is one of the most exciting goaltenders Des Moines and the USHL has seen.The Mighty Bucs still have a long stretch ahead of them but if they continue the way they have been playing, home ice advantage is just around the corner for them. As this team continues to gel, they are only getting better. As picked before the season in my eyes, this is my sleeper team in the league this season. If there play stays like this or gets even better, they can beat anyone in this league.